Destination: China: Beijing
China World Beijing
At nearly twenty, a veteran in Beijing hotel terms, the China World was the first major hotel to be designed as the centerpiece of an entire complex, with shops, offices and restaurants incorporated into the block-long plot. The property is one of the top properties of the renowned Shangri-La group, which ensures that it is powered by a slick and efficient Hong Kong–European mechanism. It is not for everyone—the gargantuan feel is accentuated by the presence of a sister hotel, the Trader’s, in the complex and a large exhibition center—but it is luxurious, fairly convenient and used to meeting the demands of American and European business and leisure travelers. Interestingly, a portion of its trade these days comes from local Chinese traveling to the capital; they were once intimidated by such grand abodes; the prices, too, tended to scare them off, and also the risk of breaching Western etiquette rules and suffering the resultant loss of face. This changed because of the booming economy. For Westerners, it can serve as a bolt-hole after a long day of sightseeing or meetings; there are plenty of restaurants and bars, in the complex and nearby, that obviate the need to venture back out into the heavy traffic. Rooms from $350.
When Vogue editor Anna Wintour recently came to Beijing, she stayed in a corner suite at the Park Hyatt, and its modern, elegant interiors and fabulous views certainly deliver the city’s most fashionable setting. Located in the middle of the Central Business District, the Park Hyatt occupies floors 37 to 66 of a gleaming skyscraper. Though you enter on the ground floor, to reach the lobby you must ascend to the 63rd floor, where floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the massive urban sprawl will stop you in your tracks. The miles of buildings and highways that extend into the distance in every direction give you an immediate overview of just how big and bustling this city of more than 20 million inhabitants truly is. There are numerous lounges and restaurants on the 63rd to 66th floor, from which to marvel at the metropolis. Some face the famous Rem Koolhaus-designed CCTV tower, known as the “Trousers” (the Chinese nickname is boxer shorts) for its iconic square-legged shape.
Apparently Park Hyatt’s architect once said that he had wanted to create a building that a blind man would find beautiful. To this end, he mixed materials from granite and natural and lacquered woods with marble, glass and steel, and, yes, the result is that you find yourself wanting to reach out and touch the surfaces. Despite the high drama of the public spaces, the 237 guest rooms have a wonderful warm but minimalist style to them. (True added touch: The toilet seats are heated.) Sliding partitions separate the sleek sleeping areas from the spa-inspired bath areas which have deep soaking tubs. Among the most spectacular public spaces are Xiu the outdoor terrace on the 6th floor, where tables and chairs are set beside hutong-style pavilions and the China Bar on the 65th floor. There’s also a new spa in the works and a restaurant devoted entirely to private dining rooms, which are among the most fabulous in the city. Rooms from $275, depending on the size and season.
Note Bene: The only twin bedded rooms available are not the lowest category but one up the Park Twin.
Indagare Tip: Foodies shouldn’t miss IFW (International Food Warehouse) in the Park Life mall downstairs; it has nine showcase kitchens.
There is still only one way to truly arrive in style from the airport: in the gold Rolls-Royces of the Peninsula hotel. The two Rollers were the first in China outside of the British ambassador’s personal model, and were wont to cause a major stir when they glided past the serried ranks of riders on Flying Pigeon bicycles. Limos are common now, but there are still only two gold Rollers, which, when not in use, stand proudly on the forecourt. The gold theme is continued with the hotel’s address—Goldfish Lane—with the usual Pen commitment to silver service at all times. Truth be told, service is not quite as anticipatory as in its Hong Kong flagship hotel is?—but it is delivered with a warmth and sincerity that is rare in China. Regular upgrades have allowed the hotel to keep up with the many new arrivals at the five-star end of the market. Another bonus is the 525-room hotel’s proximity to Tiananmen Square and the shops and malls of Wangfujing Street. Rooms from $350.
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Considered the Grande Dame of Beijing hotels, Raffles hosted the International Olympic Committee in 2008 and continues to be where many officials and dignitaries stay. The famous Singapore hotel marque set up shop in a prime spot in the city—a mere five-minute stroll from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and located in the same building as the state-run Beijing Hotel, a century-old edifice. While the 171-room Raffles has all the five-star accoutrements, plus a smashing little writers’ bar close to the lobby, it does have a slight whiff of sterility. Its location make it a convenient base for sightseeing. However, the style is decidedly old-world, really old-fashioned with a grand marble lobby hung with crystal chandeliers. Those who love the Raffles in Singapore will recognize the colonial décor and the personality suites, which are named after famous guests who once stayed when this was the Hotel de Peking. The most sought-after rooms are those in the old wing, which face Changan Avenue. They have polished wood floors, velvet sofas, heavy silk curtains and Oriental carpets. The ones in the modern wing in the back are much more corporate and sterile in feeling. In addition to multiple on-site restaurants and the Writer’s Bar off of the lobby, where Chairman Mao often held court, the hotel features a large indoor swimming pool and fitness room. Rooms from $215, depending on the size and season.
Who should stay: Those who want to be as close to the main tourist sights as possible to avoid traffic tedium and those who like grand old hotels such as the Grande Bretagne in Athens or the Alvear in Buenos Aires. The décor preserves a turn-of-the-century atmosphere that can verge on antique-cluttered but Raffles service is extremely consistent.
Who should not stay: Anyone looking for contemporary or cutting edge China. They should consider the Park Hyatt or Opposite House.
Ritz-Carlton Financial Street
A shiny new property in the financial district, on the less developed, western side of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The suburb, which has little intrinsic interest for visitors, does now have a nucleus of posh properties—the Ritz, Intercon and Westin—and is within striking distance of the city center. The standard Ritz rooms are a generous 535 square feet and feature 37-inch flat-screen television sets. Designers set out to make the lobby lounge different from the China norm, in which bombast usually triumphs over intimacy. They succeeded: the comfy space, with its earthy colors, natural light, hanging birdcages and crystal bar, is a cozy spot. Another novel twist is the “tea apothecary” with its choice of 88 blends; the number is considered auspicious in Chinese culture and, in any event, at least one out of that choice is bound to bring luck. Doubles from $200.
St. Regis Beijing
Set back from the highway, along a leafy lane containing mostly embassies and diplomatic housing, the 273-room St Regis is a rare ocean of tranquility in a generally noisy and crowded city. The hotel has already been block-booked by American sponsors for next year’s Olympic Games: they know it will be a sanctuary from the madness outside. Every inch of the St. Regis exudes luxury and refinement; no corners were cut when building it, and no expense is spared in keeping up that standard—not always the case in China, where lack of investment money for maintenance can see new hotels shed stars quickly. The main lounge, with its marble floors, purple sofas, potted palms and stunning flower arrangements is an excellent spot for afternoon tea or cocktails; and the Press Club Bar is a comfortable cigars-and-whiskey kind of place, with live jazz on some days. It has a large pool, spacious gym and—oddly—a ten-pin bowling alley, apparently because the building owner is keen on the sport. Rooms from $450.
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